College Wardrobe for Women, 1929

Essentials of a perfect College Wardrobe; Delineator, September 1929.

It’s a bit late in the year to be planning an “off to college” wardrobe, but Delineator devoted several pages to this question in September, 1929.

Administrators at Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith colleges shared their observations on what college girls were wearing in 1929. Delineator, Sept 1929, pp. 29 & 104.

Administrators at three prestigious East Coast women’s colleges contributed their observations in an accompanying article, which was later quoted in the Butterick pattern descriptions.

In addition to Butterick patterns, several “college clothing” illustrations were sketched from clothes being sold at Lord & Taylor.

These “College Requirements” could be purchased at Lord & Taylor. Delineator, Sept. 1929, page 28.

At all three colleges, sportswear — rather than “city” clothing — was said to dominate.  (Vassar was literally “in the country.” In the case of Wellesley, Freshmen lived in the nearby town, so clothes suitable for walking and bicycling to campus were necessary.) Dressing for dinner usually required a change, but not into evening dress.  However, dances and Proms called for at least one formal evening gown.  [I attended a women’s college in California in the 1960s, and we often loaned or borrowed evening gowns for off campus dances, so having only one wasn’t a real problem. Our dates saw us in a different dress each time.] I also appreciated reading about a dorm at Smith where the girls grouped together to rent a sewing machine! All three writers agreed that sporty, casual clothing — home made or purchased — dominated the college wardrobe and to some extent erased class distinctions. (In the late Twenties, Vassar had 1150 undergraduate students, Wellesley 1500, and Smith 2000.)

Laura W. L. Scales, Smith College. Delineator,  Sept. 1929, page 29.

I’ll start with college clothes available from Lord & Taylor in 1929:

(A) A fur coat was practical on campus in snowy winters, but wool coats were equally acceptable.

(B) is an afternoon dress, suitable for formal daytime events (teas, concerts) or as a dinner dress at college.

Wool knits, jersey, and tweeds were practical and traditional “country” looks; most of these colleges were then in the country a few miles from big cities, although urban sprawl has changed that.

“Simulated suede raincoat”? Interesting.  Augusta “Bernard” and “Louiseboulanger” were top Paris designers,

A warm robe, pajamas for sleep and dorm lounging, plus “sports” underwear (J): the top and bottom are buttoned together. 1929.

Formal evening wrap and dress from Lord & Taylor. September 1929. The coat is short; the gown has a long dipping hem.

Note those stretchy bias diamond pieces at the hip of the gown. Pearl-covered handbag.

Butterick patterns for the young college woman, September 1929:

Butterick patterns for college women, Sept. 1929, p. 30.

This dress really is easier to make than it looks. The full, scalloped skirt is cut on the straight grain, lined with “skin” colored taffeta, and has a dipping hem because it is attached to a dipping bodice.

Intimate apparel for college girls:

The slip at right has built in panties, to save time while dressing ….

“No brassiere is necessary,” but some girls do “make this set with a bandeau brassiere instead of a vest.”

Fall and winter weather was another good reason for wearing sporty wool clothing with low heeled shoes and wool, instead of silk, stockings on campus.

Wool fabrics were suitable for campus or weekends in town:

More sporty patterns for college women, 1929. Butterick patterns, Delineator, page 31.

A tweed suit suitable for city or country, a chic two-toned jersey dress, and a princess line wool or jersey dress with flared panels. Butterick patterns from Delineator, September 1929, p. 31

A sporty tweed dress with laced trim (very popular in the 30s), a pleated wool dress with Deco lines (“staircase pleats,”) and a fur-trimmed tweed coat. Butterick patterns for college women, Delineator, Sept. 1929, p. 31.

It’s sad to realize that these attractive 1929 styles would be out of fashion just a year later — although many women would have no choice but to continue wearing them as the economy crumbled in the early nineteen thirties.




Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Bras, Coats, evening and afternoon clothes, handbags, Hosiery, Hosiery, Hosiery & Stockings, lingerie, Nightclothes and Robes, Not Quite Designer Patterns, Panties knickers bloomers drawers step-ins, Shoes, Slips and Petticoats, Sportswear, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Women in Trousers

7 responses to “College Wardrobe for Women, 1929

  1. Thank you for this great post! College clothing is comparatively wearable today, so this is a wealth of inspiration! I stumbled over look C of the Lord & Taylor models – from the illustration I never would have guessed the jacket to be made of leather instead of the same material as the skirt. More so as I haven’t seen any pictures of leather jackets from the twenties yet, that look so tailored, I only know much more sporty models, and even those are rare. The second surprise was the frock made of tweed and jersey combined. I wonder how well that works and how it wears. It’s nice to see all these jersey models though. I really wonder why there seem to be so few of them in the following decades, as they are so great to wear.
    Thanks again, and have a nice day!

    • I’m glad you noticed that leather cardigan jacket — I didn’t notice it in the illustration, but it bears out the dean’s comment about leather jackets. I ought to search for more in the Sears catalogs. These 1929 hems look like the “right” proportions — very attractive to my eye. I notice that you are very good at finding fabrics of the right weight for your projects. The wool fabrics of 100 years ago are different from the blended fabrics we see today, and the really high quality isn’t available (or affordable) in most American cities. (“Tweed” shouldn’t make me think of overcoats, especially if it can be pleated into a skirt!) I sometimes watch YouTube videos by a stitcher who uses vintage patterns; I am stunned by her speed and proficiency, but sometimes her fabric choices are disastrous — probably because she doesn’t have access to 1) enough vintage clothing to feel the fabrics or 2) a decent local fabric store. I also follow a brilliant woman who uses couture techniques on fabrics she buys on the internet, but I personally can’t imagine buying cloth without feeling its “hand.”

      • It really can be difficult to find fabrics, here in Germany too, that look and feel right for vintage clothing. Cottons, wools or rayon are not problematic (living in a big city, I have several good fabric stores nearby), but it took me some time and failed attempts to figure out, what jersey or knit fabrics to use, and they are indeed hard to find and often expensive. I still wasn’t successful with lighter knit fabrics. Cotton velvet of the right weight is really rare, and wool crepe is available, but very expensive. Still, using the right fabric does a lot for the authentic look (and I love high quality fabrics), so I try to always keep an open eye and buy fabric, when I find something suitable. And then take good care of the clothes!

  2. Don’t you wonder what they really wore? These clothes look so formal. Or maybe I’m applying today’s standards.

    • It really is hard to remember how formally we used to dress, even when I was attending a college for women in the 1960s. I couldn’t afford the “Lord & Taylor” clothes, but Macy’s and Emporium sold sweaters and skirts and dresses in a mid-price range. And I sewed many dresses and skirts. I’ve mentioned before that my campus did not allow trousers in classrooms, library, dining hall, or other public areas. I wore a trenchcoat (allowed) while crossing campus to the theatre, where I wore trousers to build scenery and climb ladders to hang lights. We all “dressed” — or at least put on stockings and higher heels with the dress or skirt and sweater we had worn to classes — for dinner every night. Ditto if attending a concert or play or church. (1966) When I became a teaching intern during grad school, I dressed (to teach high school) in much the same way as for dinner on campus — at 21, I needed to look older / more formal than my 17 year old students. In 1986 I was watching the movie Peggy Sue Got Married with my old college roommates; we all gasped in shock when the character wore trousers to high school in 1960! We expected her to be sent right home! So I do believe that women wore dresses (and skirts, sweaters, and jackets) to college classes in the Twenties, too. However, they probably did not wear completely different clothes every day!
      Mix & match extended our wardrobes. I fondly remember a dark green vest and matching skirt I made in the 60s. I wore them with a colored turtleneck or a full-sleeved white blouse; used just the skirt with a cream-colored sleeveless shell that was part of a 3 piece purchased blue suit (dressy); wore the green or blue skirt with a button-front sweater from Macy’s, and the turtleneck or blouse under my homemade navy jumper dress or my brown wool jumper…. Those were outfits I wore to class, plus one or two dresses, a wool coat and a raincoat. I only needed one pair of trousers, because I only wore them for a few hours at a time. We also saved our clothes by wearing robes (& sometimes trousers) in the dorm while studying. (You’d take off your outer clothes and keep the undies on, ready for a quick change to dinner clothes. So our clothes didn’t wear out or get dirty too quickly.)

  3. Just found your blog!. Fascinating to read what was worn on campus 90 years ago by women from wealthy or well off families and how much more formal clothing is compared to now. I taught at a suburban university about 10 years ago- pajama pants, jeans, and hoodies, a puffy coat for winter were the student norm.
    One of my university roommates from more than 30 years ago told me that some of the fellow women students in her faculty would have fur coats; didn;t see this in my “middle-class” professional faculty.

    • Glad you found it! The article did say that even at “Seven Sisters” colleges, some girls made their own clothes. One dean told about a girl who applied for a scholarship; she nearly didn’t get it because she was so well-dressed that they doubted her financial need — until she explained to the committee that she made all her own clothes. They didn’t look “homemade” because she was very skillful. That sounds like a “Woman’s Institute” ad, but it was true. The idea of dressing more formally to show respect seems to be mostly gone now, with the possible exception of weddings. I just served on a jury for the 5th time in 40 years, and the clothing people wore for the jury selection days was definitely casual — but this is a city where Tech companies predominate, and a Patagonia jacket is “business dress.” The more we are tied to our computers, the more we dress like hikers and kayakers!

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